Inside sport with MICHAEL KARIATI
On March 24 at the National Sports Stadium, the Warriors of Zimbabwe finished their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations campaign in the same stylish way they began it with a 2-0 win over the Red Devils of Congo to secure qualification to the finals in Egypt.
It was a day that brought smiles to millions of football followers who are suffering from the harsh economic climate as their team joined the 24 best African football teams that will gather for the festival in the North African country.
It was good to see everyone celebrating the Warriors’ fourth appearance at the African football extravaganza having also made it in 2004, 2006, and 2017.
What was even heartening was the fact that Zimbabwe finished top of their group, two points ahead of the Democratic Republic of Congo in what could not be described as an easy group as it also included Liberia, on top of Congo Brazzaville.
That they won this tough group could also help scare whoever their opponents would be at the Nations Cup finals and also in the forthcoming qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup qualifiers having missed the 2018 edition of the World Cup through a Fifa ban.
This time around, Zimbabweans are hoping for a favourable draw than the last time around in Gabon where they were drawn in the same group with African football heavyweights, Algeria, Senegal and Tunisia, and came back with only one point from three matches, and rock bottom of their group.
Whatever, the draw would be, the target for the Warriors should be to go beyond the group stages which they have failed to come out of in their three previous appearances, even under different coaches.
However, as Zimbabweans wait patiently for the much talked about April 12 draw, there is concern over the Warriors’ too much reliance on captain Knowledge Musona, who somehow, has become Zimbabwe’ single protagonist.
It is a fact that every team has a lynchpin, but the Zimbabwean situation is worrying because when Musona is not available, there appears to be no-one else to trust or turn to not only for goals, but for inspiration.
In fact, one football fan was heard jokingly saying, without Musona, there is no Warriors team to talk of. That was after Zimbabwe struggled heavily against the Democratic Republic of Congo at a time Musona was out through suspension.
The same sentiments are now being shared elsewhere with questions being raised as to what would become of the Warriors should — for other reasons — Musona be not available.
Take for example, Senegal’s Teranga Lions. They can still win games without Sadio Mane. Argentina can go into battle without Lionel Messi and still win matches, and there have been occasions when Portugal have gone onto the field without Christiano Ronaldo and still, have come out victors.
The question is, can Zimbabwe go into a match without the Smiling Assassin and win. Statistics say NO except maybe in friendly matches.
Without taking much from the contributions of other players, it can be argued, that Musona, in fact, single handedly propelled the Warriors to the Africa Cup of Nations finals in Egypt by creating the goals and also scoring himself.
Musona destroyed Liberia with his three goals, won the game against the Democratic Republic of Congo and was always at the centre of attack against Congo Brazzaville last Sunday before scoring a goal himself. In this campaign Musona scored five goals, an average of a goal per the five matches he played.
There was a time when Zimbabwe had a team called “The Dream Team.” Coventry City’s Peter Ndlovu was the rock on which that team was built, but still that team could win matches with goals created and scored from all positions in the team with the likes of Paul Gundani and John Phiri in defence, and Rahman Gumbo in midfield all coming up with great goals while Adam Ndlovu, Agent Sawu, and Vitalis Takawira, scored goals at will upfront.
Then came Sunday Chidzambga’s class of 2004. Ndlovu remained the heart of the team, but even when he was not on song, there were others like, George Mbwando, Esrom Nyandoro, Tinashe Nengomasha, Ronald Sibanda, and Adam Ndlovu, who could also change the complexion of the game.
Those were the days when Zimbabweans talked about the previous day’s national team game, they talked about a different player altogether stealing the show — but not today — when every game, it is Musona this, and Musona that — that too much reliance on one player is not healthy especially at competitions like the Africa Cup of Nations finals.
The Warriors should have different sources of winning matches — and not to rely on one player.
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